How to Win on Opening Day Waterfowl
By Ryan Eder
There is something about opening day that gets us all excited. Whether it is the first day of school, a new job or the first home game of your favorite sports team, we find ourselves getting anxious in anticipation of “the day”. I cannot wait for April when my Chicago Cubs open their season, but I also long for September to come around; opening day of waterfowl season!
In order to be successful on opening day (whether it be upland bird hunting or waterfowl hunting), we need to begin preparation several months in advance. We need our equipment to be clean and in working condition. We need to make sure that we have places to hunt (private or public), and that we sharpen our skills by shooting clays or trap in the offseason, as well as working with our dogs. As the home opener approaches, we must scout and know where the birds are, at what point in the day and how weather is impacting behavior. The list goes on!
Over the years, as I became more and more involved in the outdoors I quickly realized that I was accumulating equipment. Short of needing a pole barn to store and organize all this gear, I found myself sorting through gear all the time. You are only as good as your equipment! I do not mean that in a materialistic way, rather, I am referring to keeping your equipment in top condition, well-maintained and most importantly accessible. Nothing can ruin a hunt like non-performing gear or worse yet, forgetting a key piece of equipment. Keep things clean, neat and organized. Make sure your clothing, firearm and all related equipment is accessible and ready for your hunt.
Like most industries, the offseason is a great time to take advantage of inventory closeouts and sales on non-current product. Look for discount codes for online retailers and try to pool together with your hunting buddies to purchase gear in volume to take advantage of all discounts. This can save hundreds of dollars (at minimum) on necessary gear!
All too often people will tell me “I have the best hunting spot”. Well, that may be true but it all depends on where the birds are! I have learned that it is great to have secured hunting spots, but do not be complacent. If you scout properly, you will likely find other properties that show high levels of bird activity and you should be knocking on doors for permission! You may have to barter or pay for privileges, but that is a case by case situation. We have received hunting permission for simply offering to help labor on hay bailing day! Having hunting spots that are promising based on bird activity is critical.
Sharpen your skills
The offseason is the perfect opportunity to sharpen our skills. This can vary based on what type of hunting you do. For waterfowl hunters, work on calling routines and sharpen your technique on a duck or goose call. For upland hunters, make sure you are in walking shape for the upcoming season, and make sure to shoot your gun and keep your shooting skills up to par (this can apply to any bird hunter, waterfowl as well).
In addition to shooting skills, always brush up on your hunter’s safety recollection of rules, regulations and strategies. Work with your group that you hunt with and develop strategies to help maximize success such as shooting your lanes to maximize the amount of fallen birds when you get into a flurry of ducks or geese. Figure out what kind of blocking and pushing patters may work in your new pheasant field, and have a plan for opening day. Always make sure to know any rule changes, and of course have proper licensing.
Other skills that need sharpening could include our hunting dogs. The first challenge is making sure they are in hunting shape. Go for long walks or swims, and always try to touch up on basic obedience, retrieving and even some training with real birds. Our dogs need to be worked with, and conditioned in the offseason just like we do.
I have saved the best for last; Scouting. I have written several articles for Iowa Sportsman and any chance I get; I like to preach on the importance of quality scouting. If you are not where the birds are, you will not maximize success. Sounds like common sense, right? You would be shocked how often this is not recognized. I do realize that some of us only have access to one hunting spot, and that it is very difficult and competitive to find places to enjoy our sport. That being said, having access to a field without adequate scouting could very well be meaningless. Sure, spending time in the field is fun regardless of how many times we pull the trigger, and there is always a chance of seeing bird activity when flocks are traveling and are new to the area, but scouting will help you identify what time of day is highest traffic, how many birds are in the field, etc.
This work begins weeks before home opener. I check fields on my way to work in the morning, and log activity. I do the same after work. Luckily some of my hunting buddies work different schedules, allowing for us to monitor fields at varying times. In addition to scouting our own spots, we try to locate the birds and obtain permission where the birds are staging. Naturally, this is your highest percent chance of success. You would be amazed how quickly this pays off if you work at it; you will not only kill more birds but you will gain several new hunting locations.
As we prepare for our home openers, I wish everyone the best of luck!